Like homemade pickles, the annual Mylapore Festival is getting better and better.
The 2005 edition, called the Sundaram Finance-Mylapore Festival, held over four days (January 6 to 9) is just in its second year and it attracted over 40,000 people to its venues - ten spaces in and outside the famed Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore.
It brought people from all corners of the city, especially on the weekend, when over 200 women on each evening took part in the annual kolam contest held on North Mada Street.
From Mannady and Tambaram, from Valasarawakkam and Thiruvanmiyur, they came to show off their talent and found that there was so much to enjoy in the bargain. And they stayed on. As Sundaram Finance Managing Director Srinivasaraghavan says,"Our vision is to have a fest that reflects Chennai and have it in the middle of the most lively places in the city."
Crafts and food, vintage coins and Tamil books, folk and classical arts, music, drama, cinema and music. Out in the open.
It was a mela. And a mela where friends from all corners of the city met and shared from a plate loaded with Kanchipuram idlis! Carnatic singer T. M. Krishna and his singer-wife Sangeetha rubbed shoulders with thappattam artistes from Muthukkadu in the Food Stree,t while Mylapore police Inspector Parandhaman, captivated by Velu Saravanan's Children's theatre, pulled up a chair next to artiste-editor Revathy Sankkaran at the Rasi quadrangle, to sit and soak in the main shows.
What began as a simple neighbourhood kolam contest some nine years ago is now accquiring the form and substance of a major cultural event that Madras, that is Chennai, can boast of.
And since Mylapore is a must-see stop for all tourists, there were busloads of foreigners feasting on the carpet of kolams. And international tennis players, including Leander Paes, participating in the Chennai Open, who got trapped in the celebrations while visting the temple, got a glimpse of the celebrations from their gleaming Mercs.
The Festival accquired some other distinct features.
Its managers trained local schools in folk arts and gave them the stage every evening. Community groups - Probus, State Bank of India (active and retired) staff and others, worked willingly as festival vounteers.
And, local brands like Leo Coffee, Sukra Jewellery and Viveks, were happy to be event sponsors, while Tamil Nadu Tourism and the central government-managed South Zone Cultural Centre, Thanjavur, also supported the fest. (The other sponsors were PPN Power and Ashok Leyland).
Students of Lady Sivaswamy Girls School, Mylapore, CSI School for the Deaf, Santhome, and Rani Meyyammai Girls School were trained by Kannan Kumar in the folk dances that were peformed daily on thstage before the main shows on the last two days. Kannan Kumar's troupe performed Devarattam, Oyilattam and Tahppattam on the main stage.
Another fascinating folk art was the kokkalikattai attam with dancers dancing vigorously on their stilts.
If 'Comaganin Ragapriya's concert of unforgettable melodies of yesteryears, tuned by M. S. Viswanathan, kicked off the main shows on a warm note, the shows for the weekend drew large crowds.
Bombay Gnanam's troupe, presenting a Tamil play on neighbourly relations, was a bit of a let-down but the colourful, earthy Kaliattam by a Pondicherry troupe, fascinated the large Sunday evening audience.
Food is a huge temptation. But popular art? Well, the people who thronged Pitchu Pillai Street, transformed into Art Street, demonstrated that common people do enjoy fine arts. The Fine Arts students of Stella Maris College painted on canvases and on the walls of local houses, made jewellery and handmade paper items and offered mehendhi designs while former students of the Government College for the Arts, Chennai, drew portraits of visitors - and this queue did not dry up even as late at 11 pm!
The Tamil books exhibition and sale on East Tank Street, held for the first time, took time to warm up but the publishers have promised to come back in 2006 in a big way. The big surprise of the fest was the vintage coins exhibition at Lady Sivaswami Iyer. Members of the Madras Coin Society were great guides and later said that they had never received such a huge response.
The highlight of the four day programme was definitely the kolam competitions, which gave birth to the idea of a festival.
On January 8 and 9 evenings, 200 women on each day, participated in what must be the biggest kolam contest, transforming North Mada Street into a veritable 'carpet of kolams'. Traffic was diverted with the help of the police (Mylapore's Traffic and Law and Order departments - (ACP Murugesan, Inspector Parandhaman and Inspector Kulandai).
Judges Mallika Madhavan of Stella Maris College, and actor and 'Mangaiyar Malar' editor, Revathy Sankkaran, took over an hour to select the best fifteen kolams. On Sunday, 30 'kutti' children, inlcuding two boys, also designed kolams at the far end of North Mada Street. The 2006 fest will make this a full-fledged event.
They may have been held early in the morning, but the Carnatic kutcheris by young musicians at Nageswara Rao Park, now developed by Sundaram Finance Group, drew a decent crowd of listeners. The young artistes sang sitting on the Chess Square. The ambience created in the park with flowers and thoranams, was divine.
On January 8 nd 9, L. Baba Prasad presented magic shows to captivate children at the R. K. Swamy Auditorium in Lady Sivaswamy Kalalaya. At the same venue on the morning of January 9, photographer D. Krishnan gave a talk on 'Madras through the Ages', using his vintage and recent photographs. This was followed by The Madras Quiz for school studens, conducted by Vincent D'Souza. Children simply loved the quiz, and the ones in the audience seemed to know as many answers as the finalists. Prizes came from Odyssey, Taj Coromandel, Janaki & Co., and Essen Musicals.
There was something for seniors too. Vintage movies, produced by AVM Studios, were screened at P. S. High School. Cinema historian Randor Guy introduced the movies, and AVM Saravanan dropped by that Saturday.
The audience loved 'Sabapathy', an enormously funny picture, and which most viewers appreciated for 'clean' comedy.
Writer and historian V. Sriram took 42 people on a Carnatic music heritage walk on Sunday. Winding through Alwarpet, Luz and Mylapore and ending at R R Sabha and breakfast at a heritage house.
On all four days, there were shows on the stage outside the eastern gopuram of the Temple. Performers performed in the open air, and the audience sat under a canopy of starry skies, creating the atmosphere of a thiruvizha.
On January 8, Gayathri Balagurunathan and group mesmerized the audience with the performance of 'Ayigiri Nandini', a dance drama with colourful costumes and light effects. People waited to see the film clips of M. S. Subbulakshmi's songs like 'Deviyei poojai seivai' and 'Katriniley varum geetham' ( courtesy: Vintage Heritage and Surveswaran's enthusiam) .
Special handicrafts workshops for women were conducted on all four days at three different venues. The last day saw a varied selction of folk arts. Dr. Velu Saravanan of Pondicherry worked for a week with young children of Children's Garden and Rani Meyyammai schools, to present a children's theatre show in Tamil.
Pralayan's Chennai Kalai Kuzhu, presented a street play after this. Pralayan's show has been an on-going feature of the festival, and popular with the public.
A sparklers show, sponsored by Sivakasi Fireworks, was largely looked forward to for the finale of the Fest. But it was cancelled - to respect the mood of the tsunami affected.But the golden ther inside the temple came out as scheduled, and was the grand finale.
The festival was put together, executed and managed by the Mylapore Times, the neighbourhood newspaper. A team of just twelve people who work fulltime on the newspapers, and also work for the December season of music and dance, assisting Kutcheribuzz.com.